General Dynamics Land Systems, Inc. v. Cline, 540 U.S. 581, 16 (2004)

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Opinion of the Court

has several commonly understood meanings among which a speaker can alternate in the course of an ordinary conversation, without being confused or getting confusing.

"Age" is that kind of word. As Justice Thomas (post, at 603) agrees, the word "age" standing alone can be readily understood either as pointing to any number of years lived, or as common shorthand for the longer span and concurrent aches that make youth look good. Which alternative was probably intended is a matter of context; we understand the different choices of meaning that lie behind a sentence like "Age can be shown by a driver's license," and the statement, "Age has left him a shut-in." So it is easy to understand that Congress chose different meanings at different places in the ADEA, as the different settings readily show. Hence the second flaw in Cline's argument for uniform usage: it ignores the cardinal rule that "[s]tatutory language must be read in context [since] a phrase 'gathers meaning from the words around it.' " Jones v. United States, 527 U. S. 373, 389 (1999) (quoting Jarecki v. G. D. Searle & Co., 367 U. S. 303, 307 (1961)). The point here is that we are not asking an abstract question about the meaning of "age"; we are seeking the meaning of the whole phrase "discriminate . . . because of such individual's age," where it occurs in the ADEA, 29 U. S. C. 623(a)(1). As we have said, social history emphatically reveals an understanding of age discrimination as aimed against the old, and the statutory reference to age discrimination in this idiomatic sense is confirmed by legislative history. For the very reason that reference to context shows that "age" means "old age" when teamed with "discrimination," the provision of an affirmative defense when age is a bona fide occupational qualification readily shows that "age" as a qualification means comparative youth. As

(1933). The passage has become a staple of our opinions. See United States v. Cleveland Indians Baseball Co., 532 U. S. 200, 213 (2001); NationsBank of N. C., N. A. v. Variable Annuity Life Ins. Co., 513 U. S. 251, 262 (1995); CAB v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 367 U. S. 316, 328 (1961).

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